In the home-invasion horror sensation You're Next, which screams onto Blu-ray and DVD January 14, Australian actress Sharni Vinson surprises masked intruders and dinner party guests alike with her secret survivalist skills. Vinson's Erin is one of the toughest final girls in slasher-film history and can stand proud alongside Halloween's Laurie Strode and Scream's Sidney Prescott—she's that formidable.
Thirty-year-old Vinson is best known Down Under for her work on the soap opera Home and Away, but American viewers might recognize her from the fishtastic sharks-in-a-supermarket thriller Bait 3D or for busting a move in Step Up 3D. We chatted with the amiable actress about her desire for more physical roles, what she thinks happens to her You're Next character after the credits roll, and what the MPAA would rate her if she were a movie.
Fandango: You're Next's Erin isn't your typical horror-movie "final girl" in that she's very tough and seems to be as equally lethal as the masked intruders. Is that what attracted you to the role?
Sharni Vinson: Truly, yes, it is. I haven't read a horror-movie script that quite matched this one and was so much of an opportunity for whomever was going to play this part. She was going to be in 97.6% of this film all the way until the end. I really thought it was a challenge that I wanted to take—thinking that the movie would rest quite heavily on this character. It turns the tables and delivers what you least expect from a horror heroine.
Fandango: Erin reveals in You're Next that she was raised in a survivalist camp. Did you have to go through any specific training to learn any skills that appear on camera or to operate those booby traps Erin makes?
Vinson: One thing that I definitely had going in to this character of Erin was my physicality. I had danced, swam and been very much a sports person for a long time, so a lot of the basic physical moves were there. What we needed to heavily refine was the mentality of this girl. She's grown up on a survivalist compound and learned these skills in case she has to use them, and she's about to use them for the first time. It's going through this journey of recalling these skills naturally and having superfast response time… and being ahead of your own game. I was up against the wall and had objects thrown at me, so I had to learn to duck and get out of the way fast. It was kind of like martial arts combinations. I had a fire poker in my hand 24/7 and was learning how to just twirl it with my wrist and handle weapons and knives. Our stunt coordinator helped me refine those specific skills that we were going to catch on camera and made sure that they were possible for someone who grew up this way.
Fandango: So you did most of your own stunts?
Vinson: That's right. And it's very important for me to do that, because the action part of the role is why I picked it. I'm looking for that and for ways to showcase my abilities in action. The only stunt in You're Next that I wasn't allowed to do was jump through the window, and it was a real shame because I wanted to do it. They weren't going to let me jump through glass, land on boxes and potentially injure myself. I said, "Let's shoot that scene on the very last day, so if I injure myself it doesn't matter." That was my solution. But everything else you see is 100% me.
Fandango: Was that "Looking for the Magic" song by Dwight Twilley Band played as much on set as it was during the movie? And did it drive you crazy?
Vinson: We hadn't a clue as to any part of the soundtrack when we were shooting, so we weren't privy to that song being picked for the movie until the Toronto Film Festival in 2011. That's the first time we saw the movie and realized that not only had they picked that song, but it was going to be such a focus throughout the movie. It became such a huge part of the tone of the film. At one part they weren't sure if they could afford the "Magic" and buy the rights, but there was no turning back. We were lucky we could afford the "Magic" in the end.
Fandango: Are you squeamish when you are filming or watching scenes with gore and extreme violence?
Vinson: Not at all. From the age of six or seven, I had sleepovers on Friday nights and we would go straight to the horror section and get classic horror films. I never had nightmares, and I love watching horror movies. Now that I'm in the business and I see how the prosthetic department develops its masterpieces and effects on camera, it's difficult to make me look away in a movie. There have been a couple that have made me do it that I won't mention—a Serbian film that I don't think anyone needs to see—but they're not for reasons of blood and gore. The only thing that made me squirm in You're Next is when I had to stab A.J. Bowen in the eye with a knife. I didn't enjoy getting close to such a delicate area with such a sharp object. It freaked me out, and watching him walk around with a knife hanging out of his eye was just ridiculous.
Fandango: What are some of your favorite horror movies?
Vinson: The first movies I ever watched were not animated Disney movies. I was at the video store picking out the Nightmare on Elm Streets and all of the Chucky series, Stephen King's It, all of the Jaws movies. Then along came Pet Sematary, which I loved, and Scream, which changed the game a little bit. Looking back, those are the ones that really got me hooked at first.
Fandango: What do you think happens to Erin after the credits roll in You're Next? [Warning: Vinson's next answer contains spoilers about the ending of You're Next. Skip this answer if you haven't yet seen the movie.]
Vinson: The ending was something that was discussed on set between myself, the producers, Simon [Barrett, the screenwriter] and Adam [Wingard, the director]. The ending you see today was not the original ending. When Simon Barrett originally wrote the script, he wrote it backwards from the ending to the beginning with the concept that everybody will die and everybody is next at some point. I was supposed to die at the end of the movie when I get shot through the window by the policeman. It was supposed to be straight through my head. Let's be honest—I do come from a land of sequels, so I'm always thinking about what happens in the story after we finish rolling. I didn't see it as a justification for this character and everything that she's been through that she dies. I didn't think the audience would necessarily respond to that, and I thought you could still get the shock value by shooting her. Then you go, "Wait a minute… what just happened?" It is left open in the credits when you see her picture and it says "Suspect" with a question mark.
So what do I think happened? Well, Erin has been framed, she's killed all these people, there are no witnesses and there is blood on her hands. So I think the sequel would be the female version of The Fugitive. It would be a crazy scenario that could only be created in the mind of Simon Barrett.
Fandango: Would you be game to play Erin again in, say, You're More Next or You're Nexter?
Vinson: You're Next: Erin Goes Feral [Laughs]. What I didn't realize is that there would be such a natural progression for Erin. When you meet her, she is just the typical girl next door who wants to impress the family. Then she is put into this situation and she reveals that she actually has the skills to take care of herself under these circumstances. The way that we leave Erin at the end is not the same Erin that we met at the beginning. The journey was so huge, that I could only imagine that if we were to pick up where we left off how damaged she would be after what happened. You'd get a completely different Erin than what you saw in the first movie. I think it would be another journey that would be more feral—she'd be going back into that survivalist mentality.
Fandango: You appeared in Step Up 3D and you're also a singer. Where is your heart: singing, acting or dancing?
Vinson: Well, I always did train in all three aspects and I feel that at different times in my life one has come forth more than the others. But acting allows you to play any role you like. You're not limited to what characters that you can be, and there is way to incorporate my other passions—dancing, singing and sports—into these roles. The fact that I could do Step Up 3D was amazing because I did 15 years of dance training. Now I really want to attack the more action-esque roles. I grew up on a horse riding through the Outback, so I'd love to do a period Western where I'm a girl with a gun. As for singing, I'd love to do a film adaptation of a musical. Then I could showcase all three things you just mentioned in one role.
Fandango: If the MPAA rated you, what rating would you get?
Vinson: Do you have a rating in America called "MA"? In Australia, R is 18 and over. In Australia we have G; PG; M, which is recommended for mature audiences 15 and over; and MA, which is mature audiences only and you have to be 15 or with a parent to get in. So I'm going to say MA is my rating! But I'll drop it down to G if you let me be the voice of an animated character, like the Little Mermaid.